No Sleep October: Day of the Dead (1985)

For most of his life, Evan Dossey has generally avoided horror films. The genre makes him profoundly uncomfortable. This means he has enormous gaps in his cinematic knowledge. Each year, he asks friends and family which essential horror movies he needs to see in order to fill those gaps and spends the better part of October agonizing over them, tossing and turning over them … and writing about them. Once again, he’s sharing the month with those friends and family — letting them offer their own thoughts about the tales that terrify (or perhaps just titillate) them. This is our No Sleep October.


As a longtime fan of zombie pop culture, George Romero’s Dead series holds a special place for me, especially now that zombie stuff has become so mainstream. There was a time when a zombie movie was a relatively rare occurrence whereas now there are three Walking Dead series going at once. It’s just too much. Because of this, each year I like to return to my favorite zombie film, Day of the Dead. I find it to be surprisingly realistic and contemplative, and it features some of the best gore effects in film history. That alone makes it worth revisiting on a yearly basis, but this year added an unexpected element — apocalypse envy.

I love movies in general because of the escapism they provide. I’ve always enjoyed disappearing into a different world for a couple hours. It may seem like the horror genre would not be a good choice for escapism, but it’s actually one of the best. You can always get lost in the fake end of the world and tell yourself, “The real world may be trash at times, but at least it’s not overrun with zombies.” Then 2020 happened, and I find myself thinking, “The world is trash right now. Why couldn’t we get zombies?”

While the current pandemic / wildfires / destruction of democracy / murder hornets / Dune delay may not be the actual end of the world, it’s certainly the closest thing to an apocalypse that I’ve experienced. I thought revisiting Day of the Dead, Romero’s bleakest entry in his original trilogy within the series, would give me some perspective.

Instead, I ended up feeling jealous. 

Our current world is depressingly full of debate. No one can agree on anything. Science and facts have become things people either believe in or deny. As a species, we cannot even agree that a pandemic is currently taking place. At least in the world of Day of the Dead, there is no debating the existence of zombies. You can’t get a mild case of being a zombie. And you damn sure can’t deny zombies exist when you see a horde of them rip a person to pieces and then eat said pieces. Actually, I take that back. If a zombie outbreak did occur in the real world, people would debate it: It’s actually just a severe case of rabies! All the zombies are really just crisis actors! It’s inhumane to kill zombies! There’s a cure, but big pharma won’t release it! And so on and so on.

That’s not to say there isn’t debate in Day of the Dead. It’s just the fun kind of debate, like: “Can zombies be trained and controlled, or should we just shoot them all and focus on a cure?” Of course, there’s still the classic conflict between academics and dudes with guns going on as well. But at least everything is out in the open in the zombie world. 

We have plenty of openly evil people in the world today, but they still attempt to be portrayed as humans from time to time. For example, Trump will make stupid recommendations about injecting bleach or that deaths in “blue” states don’t matter as much, but he’ll back down about it later by claiming sarcasm or something. Captain Rhodes in Day of the Dead never pretends to care. He’s a classic crazy bully: “We’ve got more guns, and we’ll kill you until you do what we want!” I honestly wish Trump would be more like this. At least have the balls to be a total villain like Rhodes. Plus, Rhodes’s crazy outbursts are at least entertaining, with classic lines like, “I’m running this monkey farm now, Frankenstein, and I want to know what the fuck you’re doing with my time!” Instead we get Trump, who often sounds like a dementia patient who escaped the home and is striking up a conversation with a stray dog he found in an alley.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two would be how they would handle death. Let’s face it: If Trump was being eaten by zombies, there’s no way he would go out with an awesome “Choke on ‘em!” as zombies feasted on his innards. Instead, it would go something like this: “Enjoy my intestines, zombies. I’ve been told by the best doctors that my guts are impeccable and delicious. Truly fantastic organs. Any zombie would be lucky to have them. I don’t see Sleepy Joe letting zombies eat his guts. Also, this is not that bad. Being eaten by zombies is actually better than getting the flu. Don’t give in to fear. Live your life.” I know that’s a lot of talking for someone being devoured by zombies, but if there’s anyone who could get that much bullshit out at such a time, it’s Trump.  

As you can tell, I’m not a fan of our current leadership. I believe this administration’s intentionally misleading information has led to many avoidable American deaths. This is why I will watch a movie like Day of the Dead with envy. It’s still a shitty world, but it looks more entertaining and straightforward at least. 

But we didn’t get Day of the Dead for our potentially apocalyptic moment; instead, we got stuck with The Happening. We’re faced with an invisible menace, which leads many to doubt its very existence. A person like Mark Wahlberg is considered a credible source of scientific information, which is actually better than what we have now — with a lot of people getting their science from memes shared by their gas-huffing buddy from high school. We deserve better than this. But until that happens, I’ll just escape into the zombie apocalypse of Day of the Dead whenever I need a little relief from the real life shit-show of the current world.


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